Kristoffer Touborg is the Lead Game Designer for EVE Online, but even before he joined the company he was a dedicated player and like many other CCP employees, he worked his way up through the ranks. For the last five years he’s helped shape the direction of EVE Online. Now on the cusp of EVE’s 10 year anniversary, as the game and its parent company prepare to take their first big step into their next decade, there’s a lot to discuss. We sat down with Kris during CCP’s annual Fan Fest in Reykjavik, Iceland to find out what we can for sure expect from the future and speculate about what may lie beyond even deeper in space for the long running MMO.
Blake Morse: So first off I’d just like to know what Fan Fest is like for you personally.
Kristoffer Touborg: Fan Fest is my favorite time of year because we’re on an island in the middle of nowhere and it’s lonely and people come out and see us and it’s really nice. I’ve been to four as a developer and four as a player before I got hired. The only one I’ve missed is the first one in 2004, so I’ve seen it go from being in a conference room in a hotel, to the stadium downtown to HARPA (Reykjavik’s Convention Center). It’s kind of special for me because I actually got hired through Fan Fest as well.
It’s a special time because our community is super loyal and they’re really awesome. There’s people I’ve met here who also go to EVE Vegas and I’ve seen them at conferences as well. So it’s familiar faces. It’s nice and cozy, I love Fan Fest.
Blake Morse: The whole hiring from within the community seems like a fairly consistent trend with you guys. So how did you get a job at Fan Fest?
Kristoffer Touborg: It was a little bit random. There’s a session where you do alliance presentations and just sort of talk about the alliances you’re in. And I did ours and I thought I’d just write something funny and I did. CCP then asked me to come do commentary on their e-sports tournament and while I was out here I just begged for a job. I have my 5th anniversary with the company coming up just around the corner.
Blake Morse: Let’s talk about what’s happening with EVE Online. This is obviously a big year with the game going into it’s 2nd decade. What are you guys changing?
Kristoffer Touborg: There’s a lot of things. First of all, we’re working on a mobile strategy. For a lot of us, being able to access EVE from a mobile phone or tablet, all that stuff is something that needs to happen. I was talking with someone and they were talking about their kids and how they communicate with people. Kids will say “I’m talking to someone” and they’ll be on Facebook. Where my mom would say “I’m chatting on Facebook” or “I’m sending a text message.” Where kids just say “Well, I talk.” And you just kind of assume that the medium is irrelevant because that’s their generation.
I think the same thing is happening with games. You should be able to play EVE Online and not be at a PC necessarily. And I think we need to move into something like that. I’m playing Candy Crush on iPad, and whether I’m playing that on my iPad or Facebook it saves my progression, it’s the same map and all that stuff. We need to move into something more like different levels of access on different devices. I think we need to do more moving away from the spreadsheet and turning it more into a game, because I think that’s what people expect when they come into it.
And then there’s just stuff I want to tinker around with like a new generation of ships that handle completely differently. We’ve had 10 years worth of ships that essentially fly the same and maybe we should try something else, something crazier.
Blake Morse: Is it difficult to come up with concepts like this because the game’s been around for so long?
Kristoffer Touborg: No. We have 200 people in the building that are completely nuts. Ideas aren’t really the problem, having the time to put them into the game is really is a much bigger issue.
Blake Morse: How do you tweak a game like EVE visually and how do you continue to make visual improvements?
Kristoffer Touborg: I think that’s one of the things we do best. I tend to tell people that we’re a game from 2003 that looks like it launched in 2013. We have an art department that will continually do new stuff. So, this release they redid all the skins on our capital ships and stargates as well. There’s just a continual churning through everything in the game and making everything look better.
One thing I’ve always found interesting about EVE is that even though I’m not a hardcore player I’ll still hear about things happening in the game and I’ll be really intrigued by them. How would you like to draw in that secondary market of people that don’t necessarily have time to play EVE but love the atmosphere of it?
That’s one of the big draws we see. When we have a big event and it goes on all the news sites, we see a ton of people come in. I think the aspirational aspect is the most important part of EVE. I think that’s what really sets us apart from other MMO’s. People see something and then they have a dream. And most people that have that dream won’t reach it. That’s not relevant to the point. The point is that people come in and there’s something more than just reaching that max level. There’s some crazy dream that you may or may not reach.
Blake Morse: Going back to the iOS. If you were to integrate into mobile devices would it be the full fledged game or would it be watered down to be basic commands and mechanics?
Kristoffer Touborg: We haven’t actually fleshed out our mobile strategy, so I’m basically just talking out of my ass. I assume that there will be some select functionality we put in there. But later this year we’ll lift the veil and show what exactly it is.
Blake Morse: What would you say the theme is for Fan Fest this year?
Kristoffer Touborg: Exploration, definitely. We did this thing where when you came into EVE Online through the website, you’d pick a personality. So you’d pick “I’m an explorer who likes to fly around and find things” or “I’m a PvPer and that’s what I do” and you’d kind of click your personality when you entered. It reinforced the notion that people coming into EVE were doing it for exploring the vastness of space. A lot of people clicked exploration. I think a lot of Sci-fi is about that. It’s new frontiers, it’s finding new things. And once we had those results, when we looked at our exploration experience, it was kind of dire. We had a load of people coming in wanting to be an explorer and then they were met by exploration content that just wasn’t that good. That’s what we’re trying to fix and the first step is in (our next expansion) Odyssey. We’re taking a lot of that spreadsheet-y element and turning it into something more tangible in space and it just works better.
Blake Morse: What would you like to see next for EVE Online? What do you think is the next step?
Kristoffer Touborg: I think there’s a lot of stuff we could do in terms of giving people systems that are kind of bare and you have to build everything yourself. I think that’s an interesting notion.
I think tighter integration with Dust would be great. LIke I’d like it if you could launch your Dust mercs into a station and they could hit a self-destruct button and blow it up. I think that would be awesome. There’s just a load of really odd directions we could take the game that I think people would appreciate.
Read more of Blake's FanFest 2013 coverage: